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Support Group: ACE Club, Ghajnsielem, Gozo

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What do we want? A Self-help and Support Group!

The aim of Pharos as an NGO is the empowerment of people who are overcoming life challenges and who have experienced difficulties with moods, thoughts or feelings. The intended result is a Recovery College where people can learn from their experiences.  In addition, they can inspire and draw support from others, to help recover meaning and purpose in life. the formation of a positive peer support group is one of the most effective ways of doing this is. A peer support group is a network of people with broadly mutual interests and knowledge who help one another.

A support group enables many to find and give help on a day-to-day basis.  People start positively drawing on experiences, as part of lifelong learning.  Social interaction, mentoring, coaching, resilience and self-awareness skills have a chance to develop in these settings.  As a result, people gain increased opportunities to make informed choices about their life and care.

How can we do it? Start taking control!

Before I came to Malta, I contacted Mount Carmel hospital to enquire about peer training opportunities. They told me that such a venture was some way off. The country was apparently not ready for such revolutionary practices.  I continued to work in London as a peer trainer while finalising my plans for emigration to Gozo.  I began my campaign on arrival in Gozo.  The main results so far have been this NGO and a lot of unrequited emails to government ministers and departments. Living here has had its ups and downs, but I have managed through skills, friends and family, plus appropriate medical professionals, to keep it together.  When things became too difficult, I sought help …

When do we want it?  Very soon!

I checked around and realised I had the options of (1) doing nothing, (2) getting myself hospitalised, (3) finding peer support, or (4) taking medication.  The first two options were not viable and the only Support Groups were connected to established organisations in Malta – the sister island – which was not an enviable prospect.  In the end, I saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed Bipolar Disorder. As an accidental byproduct, I completed my I-Spy Book of Clinical Labels.  The doctor prescribed me Lithium Carbonate and Quetiapine – a heady mix.  The nearest thing to peer support available was the Saturday morning group at the psychiatric hospital. That was not a good choice!  So I soldiered on, supported as ever by my wife. She really could do with a break from all this …

Fast forward to summer 2017.  I have met someone who has similar experiences of services – or the lack thereof – and who wants to do something about it.  We are planning to start a Support Group called “ACE Club” in Ghajnsielem, Gozo. If you are interested, please get in touch through the contact PHAROS page or join our mailing list below.

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Pharos: our meaning and purpose

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Pharos is a recovery-focussed project, based in Gozo, to provide help and hope – in an educational setting – to people suffering from mental health or emotional challenges, also reaching out to their friends, families, carers, and professionals involved in their care.

The aim is to set up a Recovery College. This would help people affected by mental health issues, emotional difficulties, and trauma, to learn from their experiences. This will assist in regaining a sense of self, empower people to find ways of living with and beyond the limitations that they might feel, and to engage more fully with life.

Area of operation:

Education: life challenges and self-management skills

Purpose:

To attract people with experience of life difficulties to a supportive setting where they can learn in a co-productive environment about themselves and their challenges, share and learn techniques and skills for self-management in a less- stressed environment so that they may recover meaning and purpose in their lives from theirs and others’ experiences, enabling them to engage more fully in life and society. These training sessions would also be available for personal and professional care providers.

Overview:

Educational focus. Recovery-focused (non-judgmental and non-stigmatizing) language. Bringing and giving hope and support. Taking back control. Making and taking opportunities. Recognition of expertise by experience as well as by practice. Peer support networks. Co-production and co-delivery of courses.

Courses:

These are in five broad categories:

  • Understanding specific challenges and ways forward.
  • Rebuilding your life – the road to recovery
  • Developing knowledge & life skills.
  • Continuing your recovery journey: personal and professional development.
  • Courses specifically for Carers, families & friends.

Function:

Helping people find a new way of looking at the world and interacting on a more equitable basis. Connecting with others to foster understanding and engagement. Learning from the experience of self and others. Actively engaging in new ways of interacting. Noticing and reflecting on the impact of experiences. Giving support and sharing knowledge.

Potential problems:

Means of referral (personal/professional). Funding, including finding suitable, accessible premises, recruiting, training and retaining staff, is probably the greatest challenge. As this is a proven yet innovative approach, some resistance to change may be expected. NGO registration.

Our aims:

To establish a stable centre to help people to take greater charge of their lives. To help people reduce their reliance on the State, statutory services, and – ultimately – on public finances. To establish peer support networks, services and trainers. To provide a third way of care and self-care for those in difficulties, supplementing the Medical Model and Care in the Community. To spread use of the Recovery Model across the Republic of Malta so that more people might benefit once proven in a pilot project in Gozo. For the organization to become self-sufficient through the provision of private and professional training whilst offering a free service to residents of Malta. To make Malta a beacon of hope, shining out across the whole Mediterranean region.

Background:

Ian Springham is a mental health peer trainer from London, now resident in Gozo, who brings his  professional, experiential, and personal skills as a teacher, trainer, tutor,and guide to help people find meaning and purpose from their experiences.  There is more information on the About Pharos page.

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